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- Michael L’Africain: 15 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist
- Vikas Gill: 15 points, 3 rebounds
- Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue: 13 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
- Jordon Gauthier: 21 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
- Bjorn Michaelsen: 17 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal
- Ola Adegboruwa: 16 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
PHOTO COURTESY: RICHARD WHITTAKER, UOTTAWA ATHLETICS
TORONTO, ON-Freshman Michael L’Africain has fit in well with the Ottawa Gee-Gees this season, but when it comes to a pivotal three-point shot he knows what to do-make the extra pass, in this case to fourth-year guard Jacob Gibson-Bascombe.
At Kerr Hall Gym, the Ottawa Gee-Gees took a stranglehold on the second place of the OUA East division when they defeated the host Ryerson Rams in a thrilling 83-77 game.
The young man from Oakville, Ont., commented on the game afterward. “I’m proud of us,” he said. “We’re playing without our best player right now.”
That would be fourth-year forward Warren Ward, but let’s focus on the game for now.
The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair between two teams close to one another in the standings. While second-year forward Bjorn Michaelsen scored the first points of the game on a layup, Ottawa controlled the tempo for much of the game-and had the lead for much of it too.
Ryerson head coach Roy Rana was disappointed. “We had a flat first half,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of energy, and that came back to haunt us. You can’t play just one half against a good team.”
The second quarter opened with the Gee-Gees leading 22-19, but Rams fourth-year guard Ola Adegboruwa tied the game with a three-point shot. From then, it was all Ottawa, however, as head coach James Derouin’s team closed the first half on a 20-8 run. Forwards Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue and Akeem Gardner helped create the first double-digit lead of the game, scoring their team’s last six points of the half.
L’Africain has adjusted well to the CIS, and addresses a clear weakness of last year’s team–the point guard position. “I like to be a leader as much as I can, he said, “even if we have some great veterans on our team.”
Rana has only praise for the well-spoken point guard. “He’s solid, right?” Rana said. “He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and has been a good addition to their team.”
Ryerson trailed 42-30 to open the second half, but the team didn’t give up-a contrast to the loss against the Carleton Ravens the previous night. “We played with a lot of energy in the second half,” Rana said, “and we had our chance to win.”
The Rams cut the deficit in the fourth quarter. The result was a back-and-forth affair again, that thrilled the Ryerson faithful. This is when the highlights started happening. There was the three-point shot by L’Africain to restore a six-point; the Jordon Gauthier dunk, with the foul, to give Ryerson its first lead, 73-72, since the game’s first minute; and finally the shot-a made three-point shot by fourth-year guard Jacob Gibson-Bascombe to restore a two-point Ottawa lead.
Moments earlier, Gauthier had missed a three-point shot of his own, which would have created a four-point cushion for the Rams. Instead, Ottawa now led by two at 78-76. “That’s my boy right there,” L’Africain said. “I almost took that shot, but I thought ‘be smart’ and kicked it back to him… It was a big shot.”
The last six points of the game were scored at the charity line, with youngster L’Africain icing the game with two free throws of his own.
After the game, he told NPH that the key to the game was that just when things were going from bad to worse for Ottawa, the Gee-Gees were able to respond. “One of our weaknesses over the years at Ottawa is that we get a big lead and tend to crumble,” he said. “But (tonight) our role guys and everybody stepped up. It was ugly at the end, but we came out with the W.”
Usually, the fourth quarter of a tight game might have been when Warren Ward takes over, but the forward is injured and unavailable. “Everybody is doing his best to pull up for him,” L’Africain said. “Before every game, he’s very positive even if this is probably one of his best years to play.”
Offensively, Gauthier (21), Michaelsen (17), Jahmal Jones (15) and Adegboruwa (16) carried the Rams-but the other Ryerson players could only manage eight total points. “We will have to go into their place and try to get a win,” Rana said. “Hopefully it will be a wake-up call for us on how hard we have to play.”
They have no time to sulk, with a rivalry game on Jan. 18 at the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.
For the Gee-Gees, L’Africain (15), rookie Vikas Gill (15), Gonthier-Dubue (13), third-year forward Ryan Malcolm-Campbell (12) and second-year Johnny Berhanemeskel (10) all scored at least 10 points.
With or without Ward, Ottawa is a dangerous and tight-knit group. “The ceiling is (to be) champions,” L’Africain said. “Nothing is changing that.”
Ottawa has a rivalry game of its own on Wednesday, against the unbeaten Carleton Ravens. There is little doubt that there will be plenty of crucial shots to take for L’Africain and his Gee-Gees teammates.
“In the CIS, it’s all about getting (wins),” L’Africain said. “It’s always the same story for us. We are young, but we’re learning.”